What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a system of healing the body that was developed by rishis or ‘seers’ during the Indian Vedic era over 3,000 years ago. It is both a science and an art that explains our unique connection to the environment of which we are an integral part. It has also been called yoga’s ‘sister science’ and is the deepest approach to understanding your body and your mind.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, the causes of disease stem from misuse of the senses or
attraction to unhealthy routines. This leads to upsets in the digestive process, which
interestingly enough, also includes how the mind digests and processes. Unhealthy
routines lead to activities which are difficult to digest. As we live more in the mind and
ignore our bodies’ needs, it becomes increasingly difficult to digest all the foods we eat
and experiences we unconsciously participate in.
For example, most of our bodies would not feel well staying up all night watching depressing, violent movies and eating a leftover pizza laden with processed meat. Not only are we ignoring the body’s need for sleep at a time when rest is optimal, but we are also out of touch with the body’s need for easily digested foods. Violent or depressing images are also hard for the mind to digest and will tend to ‘stick’ with us, creating blockages. If we have unhealthy habits that we regularly participate in, the body will eventually become sick. The more we mentally ‘disconnect’ from our environment, from our food source, seasonal cycles, our stage in life, the more we tend toward imbalance. When a small imbalance takes hold and is not brought back into balance, then disease has the chance to take root in the deeper tissues of our bodies. Ayurveda identifies imbalances before they take root or before western science gives them a name. Ayurveda also recognizes the incredible ability of the body to heal itself from most disease processes even after they have invaded our deep tissues.
How does Ayurveda talk about imbalance or dis-ease?
The Sanskrit term dosha refers to forces which represent the
5 elements that are in constant flux in us and in our world. We live in a world of constant change; nothing stays the same in our physical existence. In Ayurveda, all of physical matter is expressed in 5 elements in various proportions which are subject to this change. These elements are ether, air, fire, water, and earth. All of life is an expression of these elements.
Doshas are the forces that work in us and around us. They are present in unique proportions in you, but change depending on your diet, activities, season, age, and how your mind reacts to stimuli. How the the doshic forces express themselves in your body are as unique as your fingerprints.
There are three main doshas:
Vata: air and ether or that which moves. *Vata represents all movement in your body, the blood coursing through the veins, the force that moves the food and fluid through the digestive system, your heart beating.
Pitta: fire and water or that which digests . *Pitta represents the transformation processes in your body, the liver’s ability to detoxify substances, your stomach transforming food into digestible nutrients, your mind and eyes and their ability to discern.
Kapha: earth and water or that which lubricates. *Kapha represents everything that keeps you moist, fluid, and lubricated, the synovial fluids in your joints, your mucous membrane linings, fatty tissue, the softness of your skin.
In essence, there are 3 basic types of physical constitutions based on these three doshas.
For example, if you tend towards a thin, lean build, have dry skin or hair, possess a mind
that thinks constantly and is ‘spacy’, are a chatty person who can talk to anything, possess
a variable appetite and react to a perceived dangerous situation with fear, don’t sweat a lot,
tend towards constipation, love being warm, have the stamina of a deer where energy
comes in quick spurts, then your dominant dosha is VATA (air/ether).
If you tend towards a medium build, have oily or thin hair going gray or balding, possess a mind that is always planning ahead or is sharp, have an intense or firey personality, a strong appetite where skipping meals is uncomfortable, react to perceived dangerous situations with aggression or anger, sweat with a strong odor, tend toward loose stools, love cool weather, possess good energy that could seem unstoppable, then your dominant dosha is PITTA (fire/water).
But if you’re of a heavier bone build and find it hard to lose weight, your hair is thick and lustrous, possess a mind that wants to take its time, have a sweet (though sometimes ‘sticky’) slow disposition, where skipping a meal is okay with you, react to perceived dangerous situations by withdrawing, sweats little, love warm dry weather, are slow to get started but once you do then your energy is steady, then your dominant dosha is KAPHA (water/earth).
Doshic forces are evident both inside and outside of us.
How does an Ayurvedic Practitioner help?
An Ayurvedic practitioner takes a history of your past and current tendencies and does a non-invasive physical examination. We assess body type by looking at the eyes, taking the pulse, and examining the tongue to see how the doshas are moving in the body. An Ayurvedic practitioner views a person in a more holistic manner and spends time talking with a client to get an idea where we can begin to get them back on track.
For example, if a patient presents with vata symptoms of imbalance–they are
unable to sleep, are constipated and have a lot of worry, we will first suggest things to balance the air and ether elements especially during the winter (VATA) months. Helpful routines, application of warm oils, eating warm, unctuous foods, adding vata pacifying herbs (through food or supplements) to the diet, and breathing techniques are some examples of how vata can be balanced. But the process of working with a client can go much deeper as we work on getting to the root of the imbalance. We help the client avoid health issues down the road since a dosha out of balance for long periods can lead to serious degenerative diseases. Circulatory issues, high blood pressure, motor nerve disorders, sensory deficits, obsessive thoughts, and addictions are a few symptoms of vata having gone ‘out of whack’ for long periods of time.
Remember that everyone’s body expresses all three doshas and the above scenario is one common example of vata gone awry. The knowledge you’ll gain working with your Ayurvedic health practitioner will enable you to become more self-aware. This awareness empowers you as you come to understand your unique constitution and its relationship to the world around.
Ayurveda also embraces most other health care disciplines and weaves them into a treatment plan for the individual. We also recommend that a client not stop seeing a medical doctor if he or she is under his or her care for a particular ailment or for ongoing assessments as this ancient system is considered to be part of an integrated approach to true health.
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